Why I run Pt. 2

In the past several days, I’ve been questioned by several people as to how and why I run as much as I do, and in spite of my best efforts, I often feel as if I fail to properly explain myself. The following is my attempt to reconcile this, and articulate my thoughts with regard to the run. This is, in fact, my second attempt at articulating this point, the first can be seen here.

Why run? To the best of my understanding, the world we presently live is abundant with complications, and as time continues to pass, the list of life’s complexities continues to mount. Many of these things are good, such as the high speed internet I’m using to post this, or the electricity that helps me make my morning coffee, and powers my refrigerator helping me store food for longer than it would keep otherwise. Unfortunately, in my opinion at least, we as a culture are becoming increasingly dependent on these technologies to maintain our level of happiness/contentment. More so, in the days of smart phones, constant e-mailing and facebooking, the individual is afforded little to no time to truly be alone, in silence. Without this solitude it’s increasingly difficult to develop a sense of self-reliance, self-worth, and independence. In addition, there is an alarming rate of entitled recreation. As a society, we’re increasingly obsessed with ease of recreation, assuming that avoiding work is better than doing work, thus increasing our time in front of the TV, consuming the simplest forms of entertainment, and pursuing recreational activities that require less and less from the recreationalist.

As a runner, philosophically, one must refute that which our society has told us is the best way to enjoy oneself. Instead of pursuing ease, the pursuit is a challenge. More so, the runner does not actively pursue a variety, but rather chooses to indulge, often (as in my case) abundantly in one, very simple activity. Running. But, Why? I’m sure that there’s some sort of chemical reaction going on that leads to the addictive nature of the activity: endorphins, the runners high, whatever you want to call it, but that’s an infinitesimal part at best, in fact, I’m not entirely sure that it’s a part you should consider.  The reasons to run, to me at least, are a lot deeper than the simple pursuit of a buzz.

It begins, with freedom. There is nothing like running up a mountainside, unencumbered, the wind in your hair as you come across a wide panoramic view, brow dripping with sweat, legs aching, and heart pumping out of your chest. It’s an ineffable degree of freedom, known only to the runner. Often I’m asked why I don’t pursue other mountain/outdoor sports, such as kayaking, mountain biking, backpacking (I do on occasion backpack) and the answer is simple. I don’t want to have to deal with that much stuff. The more stuff I need to carry, the less in touch with myself and my surroundings I feel, in fact, this reluctance to carry anything is a large factor in my minimal clothing choices with regard to summer running, as something as simple as a shirt, if deemed unnecessary in the climate can infringe on this primal experience in nature.

Bipedal travel in itself is freeing, forgoing all technology to cover distances on foot. I’ve traveled some pretty substantial trail with pack, at a hikers pace, but having the sensation that I could do more, mileage, faster, forced me to eventually leave the pack at home, and pursue the same terrain as a runner. Once the gear is reduced to its most basic requirements, of foot protection and clothing, the experience on trail becomes vividly different, more alive, fewer ties to the world from whence you came, and a full-on immersion into the present. Additionally, on trail, at high speed, the mind is inherently preoccupied with navigating the technical aspects of the run, avoiding roots and rocks, negotiating the pace, and regulating the breath. This forces the runner to constantly be truly in the present, something that in my experience is often lacking in day to day life.

It’s also a pursuit of simplicity. As our lives become more complex, an opportunity to relieve one of the anguish of decision making is paramount. The run is simply binary, run, don’t run, there are no other decisions to make. This may sound boring to many, and I think is often why people choose to provide distractions (ipods etc) when they begin running (as I once did as well) but in reality, the simplicity is part of the joy, it’s an escape.

The challenge cannot go unspoken either. While the act of running is fundamentally basic, the act of running fast, especially over greater distances is a constant challenge. The beauty of the challenge is that the rules are set in stone, distance over time, no curveballs, and no last minute game changes. With this consistent challenge, there is inspiration, as the stopwatch reads a smaller number, and the legs feel less sore, progress is abundantly evident. However, greater challenges are always availed, and regardless of physical conditioning, a hard struggling session is bound to show up unannounced. Not to sound masochistic, but as much as the high points are elating, the low points are really where the beauty happens. While many people may not think that finding yourself miles from your home, depleted and dehydrated is a positive thing, it’s the place where inner strength is tested the most, and lessons regarding strength and weakness are truly learned.

I am not a masochist. I certainly don’t run to hurt myself, and wouldn’t actively pursue depletion, if I didn’t think depletion had something to teach me. The run, to me, is the most basic thing I can find, and there’s a certain degree of sustainability in that. All I need is a pair of shoes, and enough clothing to cover my naughty bits, and I can pursue a degree of aliveness that few other activities even come close to. Yes, there are downsides. Yes, it’s indulgent, selfish even, and occupies a tremendous amount of my time and energy. In fact, I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that running, be it mine, or a significant others, has cost me meaningful relationships on more than one occasion. That said, the pursuit of mileage allows me to feel free, unencumbered, and truly human. It grants me access to the deepest parts of my spirit, and constant bipedal travel really puts distance in perspective, making me more aware of how much energy is required to sustain our daily lives. So while it may seem a little bit crazy (and perhaps it is) to think this way, I know that the soreness in my legs will go away, my belly will again be full, and when I return home from the mountain, peel off my shoes, glance at my calloused feet, and treat myself to a hot shower, I feel an increased sense of self, and know that tonight I will sleep well, that my time with a book in my hand is well earned.

Accessible only by means of bipedal travel
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